PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform and the St. Maarten’s Consumers Coalition representatives Claire Elshot and Raymond Jessurun chastised government on Thursday for its weak position on eradication of poverty in the country.
The two said authorities were mum on the issue until questioned about it. The two were critical of statements made by several ministers on the issue in response to a question during the Council of Ministers press briefing last week Wednesday, October 17, which was also International Day for Eradicating Poverty.
Elshot said that after analysing the answers given by Ministers of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Stuart Johnson; Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (ECYS) Wycliffe Smith; Health, Labour and Social Affairs Emil Lee; and Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Miklos Giterson, she can only conclude that all ministries are working to alleviate poverty; therefore, only some will receive assistance in obtaining a job to earn something.
“None of the ministers spoke about increasing the minimum wages, the social allowances and social pensions to liveable income. None of the ministers said that the government is going to guarantee the more-than-13,000 households [in St. Maarten – Ed.] … a household income of more than US $2,222 a month to not be in poverty,” Elshot said.
She said that while Johnson spoke of working to get the economy back on track and of bringing tourists to the island, which can benefit the economy and create more jobs, there is no prioritisation for full employment and a diversified economy.
“On which track does he (Johnson) want to bring back the economy? The track that has been paying the workers for donkey years unliveable wages? The track that did not guarantee full employment and decent work to all, but has kept so many persons unemployed and out of the labour market?
“The same old policies he seems to promote, flying all over the world to promote tourism, instead of coming with policies that will create full employment and decent work with liveable wages. There was no word from the Minister of TEATT on policies to bring down the cost of living and the cost of doing business in St. Maarten. As a matter of fact, he even allowed the STAT Department to discontinue to provide us with statistics to see the increase in the price index since Hurricane Irma,” Elshot said.
“His colleague Minister Wycliffe Smith of ECYS, the party that signed to commit to the eradication of poverty, said that to eradicate poverty the Ministry of Education was making sure that all children are educated and establishing a committee to raise the level of teaching.
“The minister did not explain why school-leavers cannot find a job and why students who went abroad come back only to be told that there is no job for them here in St Maarten. So, what was wrong in the education system that he is going to change?”
She said Smith had not announced what education policy he has for the adults and the parents of the youngsters who cannot get a job. “Is it because they did not get proper education?” Elshot asked.
She said Lee “repeated the same story as Minister of TEATT” about the reopening the airport, which would bring people to the island, which is good for business.
“But with the airport open so many years and businesses profiting from tourists visiting our island, why is it that 94 per cent of the households have to live in poverty with less than US $2,222 a month – insufficient to survive?
“To eradicate the poverty the minister mentioned an emergency support training programme for people with reduced workweek and others to a maximum of only 100 workers, while the Labour Survey of 2017 showed that 19,500 people were already without a job before Irma struck St. Maarten. Where is the labour policy to guarantee all persons without a job to become employable, as he calls the programme?” she asked.
“To eradicate the poverty the minister said to come with a universal health insurance. For years we have been hearing that we will get a universal health care system, a National Health Insurance. How will that increase the household income of the 94 per cent poor and needy households? The draft NHI [National Health Insurance – Ed.] announced an increase of the sickness insurance premium from 12.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent; in other words, impoverishment of the workers who are already poor and needy.”
According to Elshot, providing medical assistance is a programme that the minister claims can also eradicate poverty. “We disagree with the minister. Helping poor and needy people with a doctor card because of their poverty income of less than NAf. 1,500 or US $833 a month to cover their medical expenses does not increase their household income to NAf. 4,000 or US $2,222 a month.
“The reintegration shelter programme of one halfway home in Sucker Garden is helping the people who lost their home for six months with a possible extension of three more months.
“This programme is paying social workers to inform these homeless persons and help them to request a social allowance – financial assistance to a maximum of 70 per cent of the minimum wage which is not a living income; to ask for medical assistance for a PP-card, which does not increase their monthly household income; or refers them to a roofing programme, where most people have more serious home repair needs.”
She said Lee did not speak of policies to increase the poverty wages, the poverty social allowances and the poverty old age pension. “Alleviating poverty of some is still keeping those few people in poverty. Alleviating poverty situations of some does not take all the 94 per cent out of poverty. That is not poverty eradication.”
She said Giterson’s remarks that the other ministers did not leave much more for him to say show that he is in agreement with the poverty alleviation arguments of his colleagues. “Speeding up the building permit of the hospital and the building permits to rebuild the hotels does not eradicate poverty,” she maintained.
Jessurun spoke of government’s reluctance to engage in a social dialogue with the Anti-Poverty Platform and of Parliament’s reluctance to call a meeting on this issue.
“We have asked all political parties, before the Parliamentary election of February 2018, to commit to the Declaration to Eradicate the Poverty in which one of the points is a dialogue with the Anti-Poverty Platform to realise the eradication of poverty.
“Two political parties responded: the SMCP publicly signed the Declaration and the USP [United St. Maarten Party] sent a letter that they were willing to commit to the eradication of poverty. None of the other parties … responded and [they] did not commit to eradicate poverty.”